A Speaking and Singing Subject

  • Robert S. Sturges
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


When we first meet the Pardoner, at the beginning of his General Pro-logue portrait, he is singing: “Ful loude he soong ‘Com hider, love, to me!’ / This Somonour bar to hym a stif burdoun…” (I, 672–73). At the end of the portrait, he’s still singing, though the circumstances are quite different: “Wel koude he rede a lessoun or a storie, / But alderbest he song an offertorie; / For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe, / He moste preche and wel affile his tonge / To wynne silver, as he ful wel koude; / Therefore he song the murierly and loude” (I, 709–14). The Pardoner’s voice, “as smal as hath a goot” (I, 688), dominates his portrait, less because of what it’s saying than because of its sheer sound, its musicality, volume, and, oddly, inhumanness—he sings well, loudly, and merrily, though his voice sounds like a goat’s.The Pardoner depends for his living on the impressive, and apparently intimidating, tones of his vocal instrument; as he tells the other pilgrims in the course of his own prologue, when fleecing a congregation of unsuspecting villagers, “I peyne me to han an hauteyn speche, / And rynge it out as round as gooth a belle, / For I kan al by rote that I telle” (VI, 330–32); “Myne hander and my tonge goon so yerne / That it is joye to se my bisynesse” (VI, 398–99); “For whan I dar noon oother weyes debate, / Thanne wol I stynge hym with my tonge smerte” (VI, 412–13).


Symbolic Meaning Gender Theory Symbolic Order Symbolic Language Material Sound 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    On the Summoner’s erotics, see Catherine S. Cox, Gender and Language in Chaucer (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997), pp. 113–32. She discusses his relationship with the Pardoner specifically on pp. 115–18.Google Scholar
  2. Laurel Braswell-Means, “A New Look at an Old Patient: Chaucer’s Summoner and Medieval Physiognomia,” Chaucer Review 25.3 (1991): 266–75, discusses, among other things, the sexual implications of the Summoner’s physiognomy, though she draws an unsupported connection between impotence and “his implied homosexual preferences,” p. 272.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    Julia Kristeva, “From One Identity to Another,” in her Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), p. 133.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Kristeva, “From One Identity,” p. 136. On the relationship of the feminine to song, see also Hélène Cixous, “The Laugh of the Medusa” (1975), repr. in Feminisms: An Anthology of Literary Theory and Criticism, ed. Robyn Warhol and Diane Price Herndl (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1991), pp. 334–49, especially p. 339.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 6.
    Julia Kristeva, “Stabat Mater,” in her Tales of Love, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), p. 235.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Carolyn Dinshaw, Chaucer’s Sexual Poetics (Madison: University ofWisconsin Press, 1989), p. 158Google Scholar
  7. H. Marshall Leicester, The Disenchanted Self:Representing the Subject in the Canterbury Tales (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), pp. 181–94.Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Martin Irvine, The Making ofTextual Culture: ‘Grammatica’ and Literary The-ory 350–1100 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 91.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Stephen G. Nichols, “Voice and Writing in Augustine and in the Trouba-dour Lyrics,” in Vox Intexta: Orality and Literacy in the Middle Ages, ed. A. N. Doane and Carol Braun Pasternack (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), p. 146.Google Scholar
  10. 16.
    Paul Zumthor, La Lettre et la voix: De la “littérature” médiévale (Paris: Seuil, 1987), p. 270.Google Scholar
  11. Thomas Walsingham, Historia Anglicana, ed. Henry Thomas Riley, 2 vols. (Rolls Series, 1863–64), 1:460; trans. R. B. Dobson, The Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, ed. R. B. Dobson, 2nd. ed. (London: Macmillan, 1983), p. 173.Google Scholar
  12. Jesse M. Gellrich, Discourse and Dominion in the Fourteenth Century: Oral Contexts of Writing in Philos-ophy, Politics, and Poetry (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), p. 163.Google Scholar
  13. 26.
    Bernardus Silvestris, ’The Commentary on the First Six Books of the Aeneid of Vergil Commonly Attributed to Bernardus Silvestris, book 4, ed. Julian Ward Jones and Elizabeth Frances Jones (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1977), p. 25; Commentary on the First Six Books of Virgil’s Aeneid, trans. Earl G. Schreiber and Thomas E. Maresca (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979), p. 27; both qtd. inaccurately in Nichols, “Voice and Writing,” p. 150.Google Scholar
  14. 28.
    R.. Howard Bloch, Medieval Misogyny and the Invention of Western Romantic Love (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 54,18; on the con-nection of the feminine to the body, senses, and materiality, see pp. 13–63 generally. And recall Caroline Walker Bynum’s similar points, cited above, chapter 1, n. 26, and chapter 2, n. 42. See also the essays collected in Fem-inist Approaches to the Body in Medieval Literature, ed. Linda Lomperis and Sarah Stanbury (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 29.
    E. Jane Burns, Bodytalk: When Women Speak in Old French Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 48–70.Google Scholar
  16. 33.
    Cf. Judith Ferster, ‘“Your Praise is Performed by Men and Children’: Lan-guage and Gender in the Prioress’s Prologue and Tale,” in Reconceiving Chaucer: Literary Theory and Historical Interpretation, ed. Thomas Hahn, spe-cial issue of Exemplaria 2.1 (Spring, 1990), p. 151, nn. 14–15.Google Scholar
  17. 34.
    Corey J. Marvin,‘“I Will Thee Not Forsake’:The Kristevan Maternal Space in Chaucer’s Prioress’s Tale and John of Garland’s Stella maris,” Exemplaria 8 (1996), pp. 38–39.Google Scholar
  18. 46.
    Derek Pearsall, “Chaucer’s Pardoner: The Death of a Salesman,” Chaucer Review 17 (1983), pp. 361 and 362. See also Pearsall’s book The Canterbury Tales (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1985), pp. 98–101.Google Scholar
  19. 56.
    Anne Laskaya, Chaucer’s Approach to Gender in the Canterbury Tales, Chaucer Studies 25 (Cambridge, Eng.: D. S. Brewer, 1995), p. 192.Google Scholar
  20. 57.
    Lee Patterson, to whom Laskaya also refers, provides support for this more nuanced view, though he regards the Pardoner through the lens of confessional subjectivity rather than gender: “… the Pardoner at once enacts masculinism’s deepest fears and challenges a theological orthodoxy that is itself sustained by profoundly masculinist assumptions.” Lee Patterson, Chaucer and the Subject of History (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), p. 397.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Robert S. Sturges 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert S. Sturges

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations